Bullying Doesn’t Only Happen on the Playground

We all know about bullies at school, but when we leave education and enter the world of work, we expect it to stop, right? We are grown up. How can anyone bully an adult?

ACAS reports that bullying and harassment complaints have steadily increased in the UK since 1998 and the costs related to dealing with bullying amount to a staggering £18 billion. Sadly, 1 in 4 of us have experienced bullying or been made to feel left out in their place of work.

The ACAS helpline receives over 20,000 calls annually from employees who report that they are being bullied in the workplace. These calls reveal that bullying manifests in a wide variety of ways and across all levels of the workforce, having serious impacts on individual wellbeing, business performance and the UK economy as a whole.

What is Bullying?

The Anti Bullying Alliance defines bullying as “the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online”.

Although bullying does not have a legal definition under the Equality Act, victims of bullying (as opposed to ‘harassment’) are still protected under law.

This is because the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that employers have a ‘duty of care’. I.e. they have a responsibility for the welfare of their employees. Included in this ‘duty of care’ is the responsibility to ensure employees do not have to suffer from bullying at work.

Therefore, failure to tackle bullying is a breach of an employer’s duty to provide a safe and healthy environment to work and would be breaking the law. As well as a duty of care, it is also in the best interest of the business that bullying is prevented or dealt with swiftly.

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Why must employers take cases of bullying seriously?

Bullying can have a negative impact on the organisation. The effect this can have on an individual’s performance may impact the wider team. Higher absence will mean that colleagues must cover shifts. This can result in even higher absence rates and even higher staff turnover, which will increase recruitment costs. Therefore, it is clear how a workplace that has a culture of intimidating, hostile or offensive behaviour is bad for business too. If an employer fails to deal with a case of bullying, and the employee quits their job – then they may be eligible to claim constructive dismissal. A more serious case may result in a Personal Injury claim against the employer.

What are the effects of workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying can be detrimental to the victim’s well-being.

Victims may suffer from anxiety and stress caused by the fear of experiencing hostile behaviour toward them.

In turn, these can offset other effects including physical effects:

  • Headaches
  • Ulcers
  • Sleeplessness
  • Skin rashes
  • High blood pressure
  • Tearfulness
  • Loss of self-confidence

The effects of bullying at work can be so great that victims are likely to suffer from stress and anxiety just at the thought of having to go to work. Therefore, the damage that bullying does extends beyond the office, even negatively impacting one’s leisure time with friends and family.

What can employers do to tackle workplace bullying?  

Bullying and Harassment Policies  

Employers need to create a workplace culture that rejects bullying. The best way to do this is to include a Bullying and Harassment Policy in the organisation’s Employee Handbook.

A Bullying and Harassment policy should outline the company’s approach toward handling bullying and harassment.

Deal with complaints

Complaints should never be ignored and should be dealt with promptly. The longer that a complaint goes undealt with, the more the victim may continue to be bullied, and employers may also set a precedent within the workplace that this sort of behaviour is tolerated.

Positive workplace culture and good working relationships

Workplace culture should make sure that all staff feel like they are equally valued, and encourage equal treatment of one another. Make sure it is made clear what behaviour is permitted and what is not.

Have a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying

Having a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying ensures that employees feel safe and have the confidence to be happy and work productively in their jobs. It also shows that all managers/supervisors/employees are on the same level and, regardless of their position, it will not be tolerated.

Lead by example

Behaviour from employers or managers/supervisors needs to set an example for other employees, so people within positions of power should pave the way for acceptable behaviour.

Final thought: how many organisations actively recruit to their values and take great pride in stating that they are a “values-led organisation”? This needs to be maintained throughout the entire employee experience and not just when attracting new people. No organisation would ever consider stating one of their values as “bullying” or just being plain “unkind” to each other, so creating and implementing a workplace culture that truly reflects your values requires living and breathing it every day!

If you feel as though you are experiencing bullying in the workplace, this can be a very devastating and distressing issue so it is important to speak to a manager or your HR department (if you have one) in the first instance.

If you are a leader or manager who has recently become aware of a potential issue with bullying in the workplace please call our HR Helpline.